How To Help Your Teenager Through Exam Year

Exam years can be difficult - for both you and your child. Today, Ger Renton shares her advice on getting your child through tough exam years.

My middle child is entering his Junior Cert year - there’s a funny thing happening in my life as he enters this stage in his life. 

Now, this could be just me but I find myself dreaming about sitting an exam and not knowing the answers, which is more of a nightmare rather than a dream - I have shared this with my middle son who’s response gave me a little something to think about.

He laughed. He shook his head and asked me what exactly I am so worried about. “It’s not like you’ve to sit exams!” he laughed and walked away.

A fair point.

I have asked him more than once over the Summer how he feels about facing an exam year.


“Really? You’re not dreading it or feeling anxious or...”

“Mam, will ya stop. You’ll give me anxiety if you don’t stop going on about it. It’s fine”

Was he right? Was I, with all my questions, pushing worries into a mind that couldn't care less about exams? A boy whose motto is “do the exam and hope for the best."

Stacks of old books.
It was true - there is no way anyone could study during the day in our home.

“Oh” I paused as I remembered something a very wise lady once told my husband and me: If you do all the worrying you are taking the worry away from them, sometimes kids need to know that the deadlines, the projects, the exams in life are theirs to worry about, not their parents.

“Ok, you’re right. I’ll stop going on about it. Sorry, kid.” I walked away deciding that from here on in, I was not going to be the worrying mother, that my son knew that study was expected in order to pass his first state exam. 

Weeks later he approached me.

“Mam, you know the way I am going into an exam year, I am wondering if maybe we should look into some sort of plan for me?”

“Oh, exam year? I had forgotten” I joked. 

“Ha, ha. Anyway, with Ethan and D and our house being so busy and with my ADHD, do you think I should maybe take the school up on the after-school study?”

It was true - there is no way anyone could study during the day in our home. Our home is like a busy hub with everyone from nurses popping in, to service providers, with lots of family and friends in between. Not to mention how excited and loud Ethan can become while the youngest son jumps off anything he can find as he reckons he is going to be a stuntman. Then there’s the dog who likes to bark at anything that dares pass or enters our garden from humans to plastics bags. 

“You know that after-school study is for study, you’d still have your homework to do when you get home” I stated as I recalled mine after school study and how I spent it getting homework done and writing notes to my friends. Do as I say not as I do eh?

I think us parents honestly forget how we handled exam years and how we didn’t (well in my case anyway) come out with top marks and sometimes we didn’t (if we are honest) do our best.

“I know, I figured if I did some homework like maths and then spent the rest of the time studying when I get home, I could finish my homework once the boys were in bed.” 

What he does during after-school study is indeed on him, not me. 

I studied him, was this a ploy? Was he serious, had he heard his father and I discuss after-school study or are his mates all doing it too...again my own teenage years flashed before my eyes.

“Ummm, you know it’s expensive right?”

“I know”

“And if you were to do it, we'd need to see a little bit of what you were studying just...”

He cut me off, “Just to make sure I’m not pissing the time away, I know, I know” he shrugged.

“You know, we will help you as much as we can and you do know that all you have to do is your best.” I knew I sounded like a cliché but it was true, that is all his dad and I could really offer him. 

“Ok then, let me talk to dad later about it” 

He walked away. 

I spent the evening reading articles on how to help your child through exam years and it was the same basic bottom line — Don’t add to their stress, ease off on the pressure and ensure that they enjoy some family and friends activities as often as possible. 

I can’t sit the exams for him (and I really wouldn’t want to) but what I can do is listen to him and try to keep our home as calm as I can and right now the only way to ensure he does get some time to study is by paying for that privilege monthly - what he does with that time is indeed on him, not me. 

The only thing I think any parent wants when it comes to exams is for their children to do as well as they can and if we hand them the tools for this there really isn’t much more we can do. Except, that is, to be supportive, understanding and grace them with a bit of humour through it all - as we all know, there’s more to life than exams.

Perhaps, deep down, we all know it’s us, the parents, that can add or take away some of the pressure from an already pressurised environment - I know which type of parent I’m going to do my best to be, do you? 

Ger Renton

Mammy, Wife, Writer, all round fixer of bruised knees, broken toys...always looks for the smile even through the tears!

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